Get More Smarter on Tuesday (June 20)

We know that there are probably a number of days this year that have already seemed like they would never end; today really is the longest day of the year. It’s time to Get More Smarter. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

 

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

It’s deja vu all over again.

Senate Republicans don’t yet have an actual healthcare bill, let alone a score from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), and a majority of GOP Senators reportedly still have no idea what might be included in any potential legislation…but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is moving ahead with plans for a potential floor vote by the end of next week. The Washington Post elaborates on the details:

…the secrecy adopted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is explicitly designed to shield the Senate GOP health-care bill from as much debate and public scrutiny as possible. The text of the bill will be available for all of one week before it is likely to be voted upon, after having been drafted in such secrecy that even Republican senators complained that they were being kept in the dark. There have not been, and apparently will not be, any hearings before the vote.

What’s more, lawmakers and the public may have only two or three days to absorb the details and significance of the CBO’s conclusions. Given that this will be the most rich and detailed empirical analysis available of the bill’s likely impact on tens of millions of people and one-sixth of the U.S. economy, you’d think this document would be deserving of extensive consideration in all its complexity.

But this rolling scandal doesn’t end there. This compressed schedule is not only designed to limit debate on the bill. As the Journal reports, the vote is being rushed for the express purpose of getting it done before the July 4 recess, because the failure to do so “could open Republican lawmakers up to pressure from constituents,” some of whom might be “concerned about losing their health coverage.” Thus, the schedule is also explicitly designed to shield lawmakers from public exposure and questioning about the immense human toll the measure they are considering could have — before they vote on it.

A new CBS News poll finds that the public broadly wants a more open process. Americans say, 73 percent to 25 percent, that Senate Republicans should discuss their plans publicly rather than privately. More than three-quarters of independents agree.

Vox.com has more analysis on how the Senate can potentially succeed with their secret plan…as well as several scenarios under which it will fail miserably.

The satirical news site The Onion also hits the nail on the head:

Headline from “The Onion” today.

 

► Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) is among the original 13 Republicans appointed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to craft a Senate version of Trumpcare, but Gardner clearly doesn’t want to talk about any of this. The big question for Gardner relates to whether he will ultimately support legislation that could gut Medicaid coverage for hundreds of thousands of Coloradans. You can call potential Medicaid cuts whatever you want — a “glide path to stability” is a favorite explanation of Gardner’s — but large-scale Medicaid cuts are not going to go over well with the 1.4 million Coloradans who rely on it for healthcare.

And as we said yesterday in this space, it’s also a fair question to ask whether or not Gardner even understands whatever secret legislation the Senate is crafting.

Elsewhere, Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-Denver) outlined many of the problems with the proposed GOP healthcare bill in a press conference on Monday. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is also becoming increasingly outspoken about Republican plans for Trumpcare; Hick says the process taking place is “kind of crazy.”

 

► It is fitting that one of the longest special elections in recent memory will be decided on the longest day of the year. The New York Times has an extensive preview of Election Day in Georgia’s sixth congressional district.

 

 

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Colorado Grassroots Groups Issue Colorado Values Report Cards

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

A coalition of Colorado grassroots groups released their legislative scorecards for the 2017 General Assembly session today. The scorecards include votes to support and protect clean air and water, LGBTQ equality, immigrant rights, quality public education, working families, and access to reproductive health care.

“The organizations releasing scorecards today work on behalf of an overwhelming majority of Coloradans who want to see their leaders fight for a fairer, more just, and vibrant Colorado,” said Ian Silverii, Executive Director of ProgressNow Colorado. “Coloradans can use these scorecards to evaluate whether lawmakers voted in support of the issues they care most about, or put the far-right fringe and wealthy special interests first.”

“There were consistent themes throughout all of the scorecards,” continued Silverii. “While there were important compromises on critical issues this session, the Republican-controlled state Senate killed many other important bills that would have greatly helped Colorado’s economy, environment, and public health. Despite the progress made this year, several elected officials received failing grades on all of the scorecards–including Senators Tim Neville and Kevin Lundberg, and Representatives Justin Everett, Tim Leonard, Kim Ransom, and Stephen Humphrey.”

For a compilation of each group’s score for every member of the Colorado General Assembly, visit coloradovalues.org. Links to groups’ scorecards can be found at: 

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Get More Smarter on Monday (June 19)

For those of you who insist that summer doesn’t really begin until the Summer Solstice, enjoy your last day of Spring. It’s time to Get More Smarter. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

 

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► The Supreme Court announced on Monday that it will consider a partisan gerrymandering case that could have significant repercussions on future elections. From the Washington Post:

The justices regularly are called to invalidate state electoral maps that have been illegally drawn to reduce the influence of racial minorities by depressing the impact of their votes.

But the Supreme Court has never found a plan unconstitutional because of partisan gerrymandering. If it does, it would have a revolutionary impact on the reapportionment that comes after the 2020 election and could come at the expense of Republicans, who control the process in the majority of states.

The court accepted a case from Wisconsin, where a divided panel of three federal judges last year ruled last year that the state’s Republican leadership in 2011 pushed through a plan so partisan that it violated the Constitution’s First Amendment and equal rights protections.

There’s plenty of analysis on the news available throughout the Internet tubes. Here’s a particularly-helpful piece from The Atlantic.

Gill v. Whitford is the name of the case your kids may someday read about in history books.

 

► Senate Republicans continue to secretly debate their own Trumpcare bill, and while the news about pending votes has been conflicting, the data is piling up in opposition. According to a new report from the Center for American Progress:

Republican health care plans, including the House-passed American Health Care Act (AHCA), would repeal taxes on the wealthy, including the Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT)—a tax on combined capital gain, dividend, and interest income applicable to individuals making more than $200,000 or couples filing jointly making more than $250,000 in adjusted gross income. This tax cut is paid for by eliminating health insurance coverage for millions of low- and moderate-income Americans. Approximately 90 percent of the benefit of repealing this tax goes to the top 1 percent of households.

The Center for American Progress estimates that 271,500 Coloradans would lose healthcare coverage by 2026 under current Republican plans — while anyone earning more than $1 million per year would see an average tax cut of $38,341. These figures are one of many reasons why a bipartisan group of Governors is asking Congress to scrap the Republican healthcare bill.

 

►Meanwhile, Politico reports that Senate Democrats are getting more aggressive in pushing back against Trumpcare plans:

Democrats will grind Senate business to a halt in a protest against Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare.

Beginning Monday night, Democrats will start objecting to all unanimous consent requests in the Senate, according to a Democratic aide. They plan to control the floor of the chamber Monday night and try to force the House-passed health care bill to committee in a bid to further delay it.

Without the votes to block Obamacare repeal, Democrats are turning to procedural moves they believe will underscore their most powerful argument: Republicans are hiding their repeal plan from the public and using Senate procedures to keep it a secret.

The bell tolls for theeCory Gardner. As a headline from Denver7 succinctly explains: “Gardner reneges on transparency concerns as Colo. Dems, bipartisan governors call for AHCA changes.”

It’s also a fair question to ask whether or not Gardner even understands whatever secret legislation the Senate is crafting.

 

► The seemingly-interminable special election for a House seat in Georgia will finally come to a conclusion on Tuesday. As the Washington Post reports, last week’s shooting at a Congressional baseball game in Washington D.C. has further complicated an already perplexing situation.

 

 

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Hickenlooper Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill

Gov. John Hickenlooper.

As the Denver Post’s Jesse Paul reports, a big win for the ACLU of Colorado as Gov. John Hickenlooper signs legislation to reform the controversial civil asset forfeiture process in Colorado:

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Friday will sign into law a controversial bill seeking to change how officers and sheriff’s deputies seize money and property, against the urging of the Colorado law enforcement community and local government groups who say it could hamper crime fighting efforts.

The Democrat’s decision came within about an hour of his deadline to sign or veto measures passed during the legislative session. It was announced by the state Senate GOP and state Senate Democrats…

Those supporting the legislation, from the ACLU of Colorado to ProgressNow, say it provides greater due-process protections to Coloradans and would add accountability to the controversial practice.

State Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, and state Sens. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, and Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village, were the bill’s prime backers in the legislature.

The bill’s prime Democratic sponsor Rep. Leslie Herod Tweeted this clip from the signing ceremony in celebration:

House Bill 17-1313 passed the General Assembly with strong bipartisan support, but Hickenlooper immediately came under intense pressure to veto the bill from the Colorado Chiefs of Police and other pro-law enforcement interests. Some comments from Hickenlooper as he deliberated signing seems to indicate he might veto the bill, but today its bipartisan proponents are celebrating together–a special event indeed between opposites like Republican Sen. Tim Neville and Democratic Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman.

Today is one of those rare Fridays in Colorado politics where almost everyone goes home happy. Enjoy.

Get More Smarter on Friday (June 9)

The President is not a liar.” Welcome to the history books, Sarah Huckabee Sanders. It’s time to Get More Smarter! If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► Donald Trump’s Twitter account, which may or may not be making autonomous decisions about the fate of the free world, finally responded to FBI Director James Comey’s testimony in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. As the Washington Post explains:

President Trump broke his public silence Friday morning on former FBI director James B. Comey’s testimony to Congress in the Russia probe, accusing him in a tweet of lying under oath and calling him a “leaker.”

A day after he had allowed surrogates to respond for him, Trump took to Twitter to attack Comey directly, writing: “Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication … and WOW, Comey is a leaker!”

Trump’s statement came as surrogates fanned out to defend the president and his personal lawyer was preparing to file a “complaint” early next week over Comey’s testimony to the Department of Justice’s Inspector General’s Office and the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to a person close to the legal team.

A spokesman for the Justice Department Inspector General declined to comment on the matter, which was first reported by Fox News and CNN.

Trump’s personal lawyer is preparing to file a “complaint,” eh? Nothing screams innocence like a strongly-worded letter. There will be exclamation points!!!

And what about other high-profile Republicans? Incredibly, they appear to be sticking by Trump’s side.

 

► President Trump will take a few questions from reporters today — theoretically, anyway — when he holds a joint press conference with Romanian President Klaus Iohanni at the White House. Chris Cillizza of CNN has a list of eight questions he’d love to ask Trump. One of the biggest questions on that list is whether or not there are audiotapes of Trump’s Oval Office discussion with Comey. The former FBI Director certainly hopes they exist.

 

► Colorado politicos reacted to the Comey hearings along largely partisan lines, though Senators Michael Bennet (D-Denver) and Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) agreed on the need for further investigations into Trump’s Russian ties. The three Colorado Democrats running for Attorney General also weighed in on the story.

Elsewhere, the Colorado Independent takes a look at how Colorado media outlets reported on Comey’s testimony.

 

► Voters in the United Kingdom dealt a serious blow to Prime Minister Theresa May and her Conservative Party on Thursday. May’s decision last month to call a snap election backfired bigly, as The Guardian explains:

Jeremy Corbyn said the face of British politics had changed and called on Theresa May to resign after her snap general election left Britain with a hung parliament 11 days before Brexit talks begin.

Speaking as he was returned as MP for Islington North, the Labour leader declared: “Politics has changed. Politics isn’t going back into the box where it was before. What’s happened is people have said they’ve had quite enough of austerity politics.”

Corbyn said May had called the election to assert her authority. “She wanted a mandate. Well, the mandate she’s got is lost Conservative seats, lost votes, lost support and lost confidence. I would have thought that is enough for her to go.”

The Conservative leader appeared crushed as she accepted her victory in the constituency of Maidenhead with a shaky speech in which she repeated her resolve to provide the stability the country needed before Brexit talks.

Heavy losses by Conservative candidates left May without a true majority in Parliament, forcing the Conservative leader into a coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party to maintain her tenuous hold on the top job in England. The New York Times has more coverage on the U.K. election results and what it means for the United States.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

Get More Smarter on Thursday (June 8)

Slow news day, eh? Well, except for that Comey thing. It’s time to Get More Smarter! If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► Former FBI Director James Comey testified today in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee about President Trump and allegations of illegal ties to Russia. There’s no shortage of coverage on Comey’s testimony online and in the media, but here’s one take from the Washington Post:

Former FBI director James B. Comey on Thursday essentially laid out an obstruction of justice case against President Trump and suggested senior leaders in the bureau might have actually contemplated the matter before Trump removed him as director.

Comey did not explicitly draw any legal conclusions. Whether justice was obstructed, he said, was a question for recently appointed special counsel Robert Mueller. But he said Trump’s request to terminate the FBI’s investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn left him “stunned,” and senior FBI officials considered it to be of “investigative interest.”…

…Legal analysts have said previously that there was reason to believe Trump might have obstructed justice — both in asking him to shut down the probe into Flynn and then, later, in firing Comey. Comey’s testimony, they said Thursday, clarified and bolstered the case.

Comey testified that he was skeptical of Trump almost from the outset, and he decided to document their interactions because he was “concerned [Trump] might lie about the nature of our meeting.”

This really no sugarcoating Comey’s testimony if you are a Trump ally — this was even more brutal for the President than anyone might have expected. For more on Comeypalooza, here’s another good summary from the Washington Post. More thoughtful analysis is available via CNN and the New York Times. To subject yourself to the entire transcript of Comey’s testimony — which lasted nearly three hours — Politico has you covered.

Locally, the editorial board of the Denver Post didn’t wait long to weigh in on the Comey testimony:

Even if Trump isn’t implicated in colluding with the Russians, even if none of his campaign staffers are found guilty, Comey’s sworn testimony and the known facts about his firing cripple the president’s credibility.

 

► How is the White House reacting to Comey’s testimony? It has been reported that Trump is apoplectic about the entire Russian “cloud” hanging over his presidency, but we haven’t yet heard from the President himself.

Trump’s personal attorney, Marc Kasowitz, is peddling some nonsense about how this actually benefits Trump. Conservative media are also trying hard to make the case that Comey’s testimony somehow clears Trump of wrongdoing, or something. From NBC News:

In the aftermath of former FBI Director James Comey’s highly-anticipated testimony, President Donald Trump’s outside counsel says the president feels “vindicated” and ready to move forward with his agenda for the country.

Marc Kasowitz maintained Thursday in a statement to reporters at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. that Trump never asked Comey for his loyalty, contradicting a key part of the ousted FBI director’s testimony. President Trump’s personal lawyer took no questions and departed the room after delivering the short statement in support of the White House.

“The president also never told Mr. Comey, ‘I need loyalty, I expect loyalty,’ in form or substance,” Kasowitz told reporters.

The White House appears to be trying to deflect Comey’s testimony by hoping to paint the former FBI Director as “one of these leakers.”

 

► According to new poll results from Quinnipiac University, President Trump’s approval ratings have dropped to a new low. Again.

 

► Polls are open in the United Kingdom in what has become a bitter general election campaign. Prime Minister Theresa May is nonetheless expected to maintain control once the votes are counted.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

Pressure Builds Over Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill

Updating one of the final lingering points of contention from this year’s legislative session, as the Denver Post’s Jesse Paul reports:

The ACLU of Colorado has sent a letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper urging him to sign a bill that changes how officers and sheriff’s deputies seize money and property suspected of being tied to illegal activity, saying he should not “stand in the way of bipartisan reform.”

“Civil asset forfeiture reform passed the legislature by a combined vote of 81 to 19. It was supported by Republicans, Democrats, libertarians, progressives and just about everyone in between,” wrote Denise Maes, the group’s public policy director. “Coloradans want and deserve stronger protections when property is taken by police…”

“Opponents argue that House Bill 1313 will make crime-fighting more difficult because if there are less forfeiture actions under federal law, local law enforcement agencies will get less money and, therefore, not be able to fight crime,” Maes said. “This position is untenable and frankly, I’m surprised this argument is asserted with such vigor.”

Pueblo County Sheriff Kirk Taylor.

But as the Pueblo Chieftain’s Ryan Severance reports, police agencies are arguing exactly that:

“If the governor does not veto this bill, it will have an adverse impact on local law enforcement and local jurisdiction period,” [Pueblo County Sheriff Kirk] Taylor said. “It will affect our ability to dismantle the large criminal organizations that we’ve done in the past and it will literally decimate some of the smaller agencies out in southeast and southwest Colorado.”

Denver7’s story today has the same justice-vs. cash for cops argument playing out:

“Local law enforcement is actually selling property before someone is even showing up to trial. That’s a huge problem and so we need to make sure we have reporting, transparency and yes we need penalties for local law enforcement agencies that abuse the process,” said bill sponsor Representative Leslie Herod, a Democrat.

The County Sheriffs of Colorado agree with the need for transparency, but do not agree on how they say it could limit task force resources throughout the state.

“A lot of the counties don’t have the money to put the supplemental budgets in there to make these drug task forces go, and so that leads to decreased ability to do drug investigations and human trafficking investigations,” said Chris Johnson, Executive Director of the County Sheriffs of Colorado.

Politically, this is a bill that Gov. Hickenlooper should definitely sign. The self-interested case from law enforcement that they need the money sidesteps the real problem, which is that assets should not be seized from innocent people. In a civil asset forfeiture case, persons who have had their property seized have no right to legal counsel as in a criminal case. As a Denver7 report last year explained, prosecutors are under time constraints to file the civil forfeiture case, which leads to subsequently exonerated citizens having to wage costly legal battles to recover their property.

The bill in question does not end civil asset forfeiture in Colorado, requiring only greater transparency and a requirement that smaller seizure cases use Colorado’s tighter standards instead of the federal program. The reason law enforcement is resorting to scare tactics in demanding this bill be vetoed is they really don’t have a rational case to make here.

The reason this legislation passed the General Assembly this year with lopsided bipartisan support is simple: there’s no good reason to oppose it. If there was ever a case when Hickenlooper should set aside inside-baseball pressure and do both the right and politically expedient thing, this is it.

Get More Smarter on Wednesday (June 7)

Prince Day?” WTF? It’s time to Get More Smarter! If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► We’re just one day away from Comey-mania on Capitol Hill, and President Trump is doing his damnedest to distract from the upcoming testimony from former FBI Director James Comey. As CNN reports:

In short: Donald Trump has spent his whole life manipulating his image through the news and TV.  Which brings me to Trump’s Wednesdaymorning tweet that he had selected Christopher Wray to succeed deposed director James Comey at the FBI.

It is impossible to see the move as anything other than Trump throwing some chum to the news gods — and some news that tells a much more positive story for this White House than the testimony expected later today from deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and, especially, from Comey on Thursday.

Trump knows that the next 48 hours are going to be very, very rough for him. No matter how confident he acts publicly about the Comey testimony — “I wish him luck,” Trump said on Tuesday when asked about it — Trump has to be worried about the prospect of the former FBI director directly contradicting the idea that he reassured the president that Trump was not under investigation.

 

► As for that aforementioned piece of chum, Trump has apparently found someone who is actually willing to submit to the confirmation process for becoming the next FBI Chief. From the Washington Post:

President Trump announced Wednesday that he would nominate Christopher A. Wray — a white-collar criminal defense attorney who led the Justice Department’s Criminal Division during the George W. Bush administration — to serve as the next FBI director…

…Wray, now a partner at King & Spalding, led the Justice Department’s Criminal Division from 2003 to 2005, and his firm biography says that he “helped lead the Department’s efforts to address the wave of corporate fraud scandals and restore integrity to U.S. financial markets.” He oversaw the president’s corporate fraud task force and oversaw the Enron Task Force. Before that, he worked in a variety of other Justice Department roles, including as a federal prosecutor in Atlanta.

Trump announced Wray’s nomination via Twitter, of course. Twitter is the same medium that White House staffers insisted days ago should not be cited as official Trump policy news.

Also, if there is a worse job right now than “FBI Director,” you’d be hard-pressed to make that argument.

 

► They aren’t getting the same headlines that James Comey is getting, but some top intelligence officials are testifying today in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee about Trump’s Russian connections. Politico highlights some of the key moments from today’s testimonials, featuring Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers, Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

The New York Times is also providing live updates on today’s hearings.

 

► Attorney General Jeff Sessions may be the next big name in the Trump administration to nab a spot under the bus. As the New York Times reported on Tuesday:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions offered to resign in recent weeks as he told President Trump he needed the freedom to do his job, according to two people who were briefed on the discussion.

The president turned down the offer, but on Tuesday, the White House declined to say whether Mr. Trump still had confidence in his attorney general.

“I have not had that discussion with him,” Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, told reporters, responding to questions about whether the president had soured on Mr. Sessions.

Mr. Spicer’s remarks came after The New York Times reported that Mr. Trump had vented intermittently about Mr. Sessions since the attorney general recused himself from any Russia-related investigations conducted by the Justice Department. Mr. Trump has fumed to allies and advisers ever since, suggesting that Mr. Sessions’s decision was needless.

If recent history is any indication, Sessions is probably a goner. The White House operates under the “law of the jungle,” and by showing weakness to the head of the pack (Trump, if you’re still following this tortured analogy), Sessions probably sealed his fate.

Get even more smarter after the jump…

Get More Smarter on Tuesday (June 6)

Do not cuddle up with your chickens. It’s time to Get More Smarter! If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► President Trump is…ugh. From the New York Times:

President Trump thrust himself into a bitter Persian Gulf dispute on Tuesday, claiming credit for Saudi Arabia’s move to isolate its smaller neighbor, Qatar, which is a major American military partner.

“During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology,” Mr. Trump said in a morning post on Twitter. “Leaders pointed to Qatar — look!”

On Monday, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen broke diplomatic and commercial ties with Qatar, citing its support for terrorist groups. Mr. Trump, who made the cutting of terrorist funding a centerpiece of his trip to Saudi Arabia in May, said he was responsible…

…Mr. Trump’s Twitter messages also appeared to contradict that of the American ambassador to Qatar, Dana Shell Smith, who tweeted earlier in the week that Qatar had made “great progress” in curbing financial support for terrorists. Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been previously accused of support for extremist militants.

At the Pentagon, some Defense Department officials said they were taken aback by Mr. Trump’s decision to thrust the United States into the middle of a fight with its close partners, particularly given the American military’s deep ties to Qatar.

We can’t even…

 

 If the Super Bowl and Election Day were held at the same time, it might approximate the level of coverage you can expect to see on Thursday when former FBI Director James Comey testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee. All of the major television networks will cover the Comey hearings LIVE, and you can be sure that there will be many hours worth of follow-up news coverage throughout the rest of the day. Corey’s testimony is scheduled to begin at 8:00 am (MST) on Thursday.

 

► Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) will have dinner tonight at the White House with “Two Scoops” Trump. From the Denver Post:

President Donald Trump plans to discuss foreign policy — including his first overseas trip as chief executive — during a Tuesday night dinner at the White House with U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado and five other congressional Republicans…

…The dinner also could provide a platform for Gardner to talk about his own overseas travels, including a controversial meeting with Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte that Gardner said last week included a discussion of Duterte’s brutal crackdown on drug dealers and users that’s left thousands dead. Trump has praised that bloody approach and has invited Duterte to the White House in the future.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall for this dinner meeting…So, Cory, how about that Duterte fellow?

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

Smart Democrats Don’t Let The GOP Own Civil Asset Forfeiture

UPDATE: ACLU of Colorado urges Gov. John Hickenlooper to sign HB17-1313:

The Colorado Legislature came together in 2017 to pass a bill reforming civil asset forfeiture (HB 1313), but Governor Hickenlooper is being pressured by police and sheriffs to veto it.

HB 1313 brings civil asset forfeiture into the light of day by increasing transparency into police forfeiture activities. Under HB 1313, officers will have to detail to the public when they use civil asset forfeiture and tell what was taken and what ultimately happened to the property. Law enforcement will also have to report if the person from whom the property was taken was ever charged with or convicted of a crime.

The bill also closes a loophole in state law that police have used extensively to bypass state-level due process protections by teaming up with federal agencies and seizing property under federal law.

—–

Rep. Leslie Herod (D).

As the Denver Post’s Jesse Paul reports, Gov. John Hickenlooper is under pressure to veto a bill regulating civil asset forfeiture by police agencies–a controversial issue that local Republicans have identified in recent years as good political ground to grandstand on:

Law enforcement and local government groups across Colorado say hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in crime-fighting dollars could be lost if Gov. John Hickenlooper signs legislation that changes how officers and sheriff’s deputies seize money and property suspected of being tied to illegal activity.

Supporters of House Bill 1313 say the measure would add accountability to the controversial practice, called civil asset forfeiture, and better protect Coloradans’ rights to due process. Opponents say that while they support aspects of the bill that add oversight, the money that could be siphoned away would curtail important law enforcement investigations — and they want the legislation vetoed.

“I think this is a solution looking for a problem,” said Colorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey, who is among the top law enforcement officials in the state urging Hickenlooper to reject the legislation. “I don’t think our senators and our representatives understand.”

It’s generally agreed that Colorado laws on civil asset forfeiture by police are somewhat more honest than horror stories that have been profiled in other states. With that said, the fact that assets can be seized, distributed and spent by Colorado police agencies with no criminal charges being filed against the individual whose property is seized, or charges being dismissed but the seized assets never being returned, is a serious problem that legislators in both parties in Colorado have tried to solve in recent years. Prosecutors say the law requires them to file the civil suit to seize assets before the criminal case is resolved, while defendants complain they either aren’t notified about the civil suit or have no means of defending themselves from one.

And when the system has such a conflict, it’s the little guy who loses his property.

It should be noted that a lot of the pressure to reform civil asset forfeiture in Colorado in recent years has come from Republicans. Ex-Sen. Laura Woods of Arvada in particular made reform of asset forfeiture laws a major issue. Other Republicans have highlighted the problem as an example of government overreach and abuse of power. In 2017, freshman Rep. Leslie Herod took up the issue in the Colorado General Assembly, and is the prime House sponsor of House Bill 17-1313.

This legislation would not reform the civil asset forfeiture system in Colorado to the extent activists on the issue would prefer. The bill would require better reporting by police agencies on asset forfeiture and require that small-dollar forfeiture cases use a more rigorous state procedure than the more permissive federal law. It would lead to a better understanding of how asset forfeiture is used in Colorado, and set the stage for reducing abuse of the program in the future.

State Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, said lawmakers worked with district attorneys and other stakeholders to create the legislation. There were just a handful of “no” votes for the bill and Herod — one of the legislation’s main proponents — called it “extremely frustrating” that there is so much opposition now.

She also noted that the bill’s legislative process included testimony from people about problems with forfeiture process in Colorado and added that the legislation has public support, including from people who have sent notes to Hickenlooper urging him to make it law.

Politically, this is an issue that could be very advantageous to politicians who come down on the side of not taking property from innocent people. Defenders of law enforcement run into trouble very quickly trying to explain how residents can lose their property without being charged with a crime, and resort to threats of harm done from loss of these seized assets to law enforcement programs as a way to justify the status quo.

But if the money is not rightfully theirs, it doesn’t matter what it’s spent on. To voters this is a no-brainer.

Get More Smarter on Wednesday (May 31)

And that’s that for the month of May. Hope it was good to you. It’s time to Get More Smarter! If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► President Trump is expected to withdraw the United States from participating in the Paris Climate Agreement. As CNN reports, this is not good:

The decision, which will be announced this week, would put the US at odds with nearly every other nation on earth. It would reflect a major reversal of the Obama administration’s efforts on climate change. And it could trigger further efforts to erode the landmark climate agreement.

The precise mechanism for withdrawal hasn’t yet been determined, and White House officials cautioned the plans could change until Trump makes his decision public. But in conversations over the past week, Trump has made clear he plans to fulfill his campaign promises to withdraw.

The administration’s decision comes after months of internal debate and speculation about what Trump, who campaigned on leaving the deal, would do once he took office. Trump faced intense pressure on both sides, including from his senior advisers and family.

The White House was initially slated to make a final decision on the climate accord earlier this month, but delayed the decision until the G7 meeting in Sicily. At the summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters the climate debate was “controversial” and that the leaders of the other G7 nations — France, Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom and Italy — all urged Trump to remain a part of the 2015 agreement.

As the Washington Post notes, a decision on the Paris Climate Agreement will not make everyone happy in Trump’s administration:

The decision over the Paris climate agreement has deeply divided the Administration, with Ivanka Trump and the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging the president to remain in the deal and White House strategist Steve Bannon and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt pushing for a withdrawal.

 

► Senator Michael Bennet (D-Denver) will hold a town hall meeting tonight in La Junta, Colorado. On Tuesday, Bennet toured a research facility at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins.

Meanwhile, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) held a town-hall meeting of his own…in South Korea.

 

► As Politico reports, the investigation into Russian ties to the Trump administration is making it difficult for the White House to fill out its staff roster:

Potential hires are paying close attention to the expanding investigations, which have now begun to touch senior Trump aides, with some questioning whether they want to join the administration.

Four people who work closely with prospective nominees told POLITICO that some potential hires are having second thoughts about trying to land executive branch appointments as federal and congressional investigations threaten to pose a serious distraction to Trump’s agenda.

“It’s an additional factor that makes what was an already complicated process of staffing the government even harder,” said Max Stier, head of the Partnership for Public Service, which has advised the Trump transition on hiring.

According to the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, the White House has announced nominees for just 117 of the 559 most important Senate-confirmed positions.

That trails the records of Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, who had each nominated about twice as many people by this point in the first year of their first terms.

Apparently the prospect of jail time is not an attractive benefit option. Perhaps Reince Priebus would be better off without a job.

 

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Get More Smarter on Tuesday (May 30)

After a long and (hopefully) relaxing Holiday Weekend, we’re here to help you get caught up on all things political in Colorado and beyond. It’s time to Get More Smarter! If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► President Trump is back in the White House following his “big foreign trip.” If Trump was hoping that America had forgotten about his suspicious ties to Russia while he was gone…well, no such luck. From CNN:

Russian government officials discussed having potentially “derogatory” information about then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and some of his top aides in conversations intercepted by US intelligence during the 2016 election, according to two former intelligence officials and a congressional source.

One source described the information as financial in nature and said the discussion centered on whether the Russians had leverage over Trump’s inner circle. The source said the intercepted communications suggested to US intelligence that Russians believed “they had the ability to influence the administration through the derogatory information.”…

…None of the sources would say which specific Trump aides were discussed. One of the officials said the intelligence report masked the American names but it was clear the conversations revolved around the Trump campaign team. Another source would not give more specifics, citing the classified nature of the information.

 

Jared Kushner’s alleged ties to Russia sucked most of the oxygen out of the room for any other news story over Memorial Day weekend. Kushner, a top advisor to President Trump (and, also, his son-in-law), has some serious ‘splaining to do about his reported quests for secret back-channel discussions with Russia. As the New York Times reports:

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, was looking for a direct line to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia — a search that in mid-December found him in a room with a Russian banker whose financial institution was deeply intertwined with Russian intelligence, and remains under sanction by the United States.

Federal and congressional investigators are now examining what exactly Mr. Kushner and the Russian banker, Sergey N. Gorkov, wanted from each other. The banker is a close associate of Mr. Putin, but he has not been known to play a diplomatic role for the Russian leader. That has raised questions about why he was meeting with Mr. Kushner at a crucial moment in the presidential transition, according to current and former officials familiar with the investigations.

The New York Times first reported the meeting between Mr. Kushner and Mr. Gorkov in March, but the White House at the time did not explain its aim. That article quoted a White House spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, who said that the meeting came at the request of the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey I. Kislyak, with whom Mr. Kushner had met earlier in December at Trump Tower to discuss opening a communications channel with Russian officials during the presidential transition.

But the half-hour meeting with Mr. Gorkov since has come under increasing scrutiny. The current and former American officials now say it may have been part of an effort by Mr. Kushner to establish a direct line to Mr. Putin outside established diplomatic channels.

 

► President Trump needs a new Communications Director with the resignation of Mike Duke. As first reported by Axios this morning:

Mike Dubke, President Trump’s communications director, is leaving the White House — the start of a wave of changes as the West Wing struggles to cope with burgeoning scandals and a stalled agenda.

Dubke served for just three months before tendering his resignation May 18. He offered to stay through the overseas trip, and Trump accepted. He has been trying to help restructure the press and communications operation, and is parting on good terms, a senior administration official said.

Insiders say Dubke came in with few patrons, and never gelled with the originals. His departure is a reminder of how hard it is for newcomers to thrive in Trumpland.

Dubke is still coming in to work, and his last day hasn’t been set. His job is likely to remain open for a bit.

As Politico reports, a larger staff shakeup at the White House appears to be on the horizon.

 

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Get More Smarter on Thursday (May 25)

Don’t worry — it will totally be warm again some day next week. Maybe. It’s time to Get More Smarter! If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► The Congressional Budget Office finally released its score of the latest Republican health care legislation, and the numbers are very bad. As the New York Times explains:

A bill to dismantle the Affordable Care Act that narrowly passed the House this month would leave 14 million more people uninsured next year than under President Barack Obama’s health law — and 23 million more in 2026, the Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday. Some of the nation’s sickest would pay much more for health care…

…The forecast by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Capitol Hill’s official scorekeeper, is another potential blow to efforts to undo Mr. Obama’s signature domestic achievement. Republican senators have said they will make substantial changes to the measure passed by the House, but even Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, sounds uncertain about his chances of finding a majority to repeal and replace the health law.

Oh, and insurance premiums for people older than 65 would rise by more than 800%. None of this made Colorado lawmakers particularly happy. Here’s the front page of today’s Denver Post:

 

 Congressman Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) made a candid admission to Politico in a story published today: Congressional Republicans are obliged to bend and twist in order to accommodate the Trump administration.

 

► Attorney General Jeff Sessions apparently lied to investigators when he was being interviewed for his security clearance. As Chris Cillizza writes for CNN:

The problem here for Sessions — and the Trump administration more broadly — is that the meetings the Attorney General failed to disclose are with the Russian ambassador. Not the ambassador to France or England or literally any other place in the world.

And that means the omissions matter. Because they land amid a federal investigation now being run by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and potential collusion with the Trump campaign. And two congressional investigations into the matter. And the firing of former national security adviser Michael Flynn due to his misleading comments about his own conversations with Kislyak. And the Russia ties of former Trump advisers Paul Manafort and Carter Page. And Sessions’ own recusal from the federal investigation due to his meetings with Kislyak. And the reports that Trump asked then FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn and the Russians during a Feb. 14 meeting.

 

► Today’s special election for a Congressional seat in Montana was thrown into a tizzy when the Republican candidate literally body-slammed a reporter on WednesdayGreg Pianoforte is being charged with misdemeanor assault on Election Day.

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Jessie Danielson Runs To Succeed Sen. Cheri Jahn In Key District

Rep. Jessie Danielson (D).

Rep. Jessie Danielson of Wheat Ridge announced her run for Senate District 20 yesterday, a closely-divided swing Senate seat now held by term-limited Sen. Cheri Jahn:

Serving Jeffco in the State House has been a tremendous honor – and I am proud to have passed laws that are protecting vulnerable seniors, advancing equal pay, looking out for veterans, protecting our environment, and helping Colorado families get a fair shake when the odds are often stacked against us…

With your help, I will go to the State Senate and continue fighting for a better future – by empowering hard-working Coloradans who want to send their kids to great public schools and build a secure future for their families.

Whether it’s legalizing rain barrels or making child care more affordable, I have passed common sense laws focused on helping make day-to-day life a little easier for regular people. Just this year I passed the Wage Theft Transparency Act, which will shine a light on employers caught cheating workers out of their pay.

In the State Senate, I will continue to uphold the Colorado values that make our state a better place to live. The chaos in Washington shows that it’s up to us – here in the states – to stand up to powerful special interests and protect what makes Colorado unique. As state senator, I will never stop fighting for Colorado, for Jeffco and for you.

Sen. Jahn’s last election in 2014 against Republican candidate Larry Queen was a real nail-biter, with Jahn emerging victorious by fewer than 500 votes. Democrats nonetheless consider Rep. Danielson an ideal successor to hold the seat, with an excellent legislative track record and solid campaign skill and experience–good enough that she was considered a possible candidate for Congress to succeed Rep. Ed Perlmutter. Danielson is a sufficiently strong contender that we would be surprised to see a serious primary opponent emerge, though with an open seat you can never rule one out.

Either way, Democrats are feeling good about holding this swing seat on their way to recapturing the Senate majority in 2018, and now you know why.

Get More Smarter on Wednesday (May 24)

By the time you finish reading this post, George Brauchler will have come up with another position on dealing with Colorado’s budget problems. It’s time to Get More Smarter! If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► The Congressional Budget Office is expected today to release its score of the latest House Republican version of Trumpcare. As the Washington Post explains, Senate Republicans are about to take the baton of stupid:

The Senate can begin health-care discussions in earnest today when it finally gets an official word from the Congressional Budget Office on how much money there is to work with on an overhaul of President Obama’s health-care law.

Remember that crazy roller-coaster ride a few weeks ago, as the House started and stopped…and stopped and started…and finally gained enough speed to pass its health-care measure (and, I might add, gave reporters the legislative equivalent of motion sickness)? Ever since then, senators have been waiting in line for their own wild ride to start.

But now the cars can start chugging down the tracks, when the CBO releases its anxiously anticipated and final estimate of how much the House’s American Health Care Act would cost and how many people it would cover…

…the Senate needs a CBO score for very practical reasons. Anything it wants to do regarding replacing the ACA hangs on this score. That’s because if Senate Republicans want to pass a health-care bill without any help from Democrats, they must use the budget bill currently housing the House health-care measure. Using the budget measure allows them to pass it with just a simple majority instead of the typical 60-vote threshold.

Here in Colorado, the health care spotlight now turns to Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma), who is among the Senate leaders tapped to come up with some sort of health care legislation of its own.

 

“Waffler Brauchler?” Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler is running for governor, and he’s already flip-flopping in a manner that would make “Both Ways” Bob Beauprez beam with pride. Within the span of 24 hours, Brauchler told the Colorado Independent that he both supported and opposed efforts by the Colorado legislature to re-classify the Hospital Provider Fee.

 

► Senator Michael Bennet (D-Denver) is pushing legislation that seeks to end the “revolving door” of politicians becoming lobbyists on Capitol Hill. From the Colorado Statesman:

“This bill puts power back into the hands of the Coloradans I came here to represent,” Bennet said. “By banning members of Congress from lobbying when they leave Capitol Hill, we can begin to restore confidence in our national politics.”

Along with a lifetime ban, the legislation would increase congressional staff restrictions on lobbying from one year to six years, implement a 6-year ban on lobbyists from joining congressional or committee staff that they previously lobbied and create a more accessible website for public reporting of lobbying efforts.

Results of a new poll, meanwhile, show that Americans are not enthusiastic about President Trump’s prospects for “draining the swamp” in Washington D.C.

 

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